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Opinion
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Guest Column
What kind of election reform Americans really want | Column
A survey shows the sorts of specific measures Americans want to see.
Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala., wears a pin honoring John Lewis while standing alongside other members of the Congressional Black Caucus speaking in front of the Senate chambers about their support of voting rights legislation at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Amanda Andrade-Rhoades)
Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala., wears a pin honoring John Lewis while standing alongside other members of the Congressional Black Caucus speaking in front of the Senate chambers about their support of voting rights legislation at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Amanda Andrade-Rhoades) [ AMANDA ANDRADE-RHOADES | AP ]
Published Jan. 21

The Senate may be sharply divided on voting reform legislation — witness Wednesday night’s tense debate — but the voters themselves are indicating more certain support.

Bethany Bowra
Bethany Bowra [ Provided ]

Even though the “Freedom to Vote Act” died on the Senate floor, new survey results suggest that — despite sharp partisan differences — there is widespread support among a majority of Americans for many of the bill’s key provisions, which would compel states to adopt more uniform standards for conducting national elections.

In a recent survey — conducted by researchers at the University of South Florida and Florida International University — a representative sample of 1,000 eligible voters were asked to rate their support for several key provisions of the Freedom to Vote Act.

Stephen Neely
Stephen Neely [ File photo ]

Nearly three-quarters said that they would either “strongly” or “somewhat support” a requirement for states to hold early voting for at least two weeks prior to election day (75 percent).

A similar percent (75 percent) indicated their support for making election day a federal holiday. While these two provisions were supported by a majority of both Democrats and Republicans, partisans proved to be more divided on other key issues.

For example, while 65 percent said that they would support a requirement for states to allow same day voter registration, a majority of Republicans (55 percent) opposed the measure. Similarly, only 40 percent of Republicans supported a provision that would compel states to allow voting by mail, compared with 89 percent of Democrats (64 percent overall supported the provision).

What voters think.
What voters think. [ Provided ]

Underlying these partisan divisions are sharp differences of opinion about election security and the integrity of emerging voting methods. Seventy-eight percent of Republicans suggested that voting by mail is “less secure than in-person voting,” compared with only 22 percent of Democrats. Independents were evenly split on the issue.

In a stark reminder of how deeply the Trump administrations’ post-2020 narrative has resonated with the GOP base, only 28 percent of Republicans said that they were “very” or “somewhat confident” that “America’s national elections are conducted fairly,” compared with 86 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of Independents.

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Partisans were also relatively divided when it came to the locus of election authority, with 58 percent of Democrats saying that election reforms should be undertaken by the federal government, compared to only 37 percent of Independents and 32 percent of Republicans.

While the results showed sharp divisions across many current proposals, an overwhelming majority (84 percent) agreed that individuals should be required to show a valid photo ID when voting, including 71 percent of Democrats, 85 percent of Independents, and 96 percent of Republicans.

While these public sentiments may do little to sway Republican and Democratic senators in either direction, they do indicate a sense of majority support among Americans for the broad framework of the Freedom to Vote Act. However, they also remind us how deeply strained partisan tensions have become in the wake of the 2020 election, particularly when it comes to trust and confidence in America’s electoral processes.

Restoring this trust and confidence while simultaneously ensuring fair and equal access for all American voters is an unenviable task, but a critical one for the health and well-being of our democracy. It remains to be seen if the Senate is up to the task.

Bethany Bowra is a doctoral candidate at Florida International University. Her research focuses on interbranch relations, political communication and social media, and she provides U.S. political analysis for various outlets, including Times Radio. Stephen Neely is an associate professor at USF’s School of Public Affairs. The USF/FIU study was conducted as an online survey using Prodege MR, a leading market research provider. The survey referenced in this article was conducted between Jan. 6 and 10. A representative sample of 1,000 eligible U.S. voters was collected via a stratified, quota sampling method, with balanced quotas (by region of the country) for age, gender, race, ethnicity, education, and political affiliation. The results are reported with a 95 percent confidence level and a margin of error +/- 3.1.

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